When I was little, my favorite book was The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. We had this ratty orange paperback version — nothing special — I’m not even sure if it had the illustrations in it. I must have read that book 5 or 6 times myself during my childhood, and my sisters had all read it too. Its popularity in our household was clearly evident: my sister Jenny and I had drawn pictures on the blank pages at the beginning and end of the book, and the spine had been reinforced several times with masking tape.
When I got into my teens, I got it into my mind that I would be a collector of books: matching sets was my ideal. I had the ambitious goal of owning every single Nancy Drew book in that yellow hard-cover style that was so popular for so long. That goal was never realized, however; do you know how many of those books there are? It’s a lot, lemme tell you.
I also wanted a matching set of the Wizard of Oz books, all thirteen of those that were originally written by L. Frank Baum.
Anyone who is a fan of the series will know that there are far more than thirteen books, as Baum’s family carried on the tradition after his death. I was, however, a purist, and I most wanted those original thirteen.
I finally got my wish, and collected a matching set of paperbacks; they weren’t high-quality collectors’ editions or anything, but they were uniform in height and color, they were polished, shiny, and the pages were pristine; they were even numbered, and seeing them lined up on my bookshelf made me feel I had accomplished something.
I gave the old orange book away.
Several years later, in my early twenties, I was at a second-hand store doing my favorite thing: browsing through the book section.
On a free-standing wire rack of paperbacks, a flash of traffic-cone orange caught my attention. I turned the bookstand, and there in front of me was a familiar orange cover that read Wizard of Oz in faded yellow letters. Dry and cracked masking tape covered the spine.
I picked the book up and opened it. There inside were the pictures that Jenny and I had drawn in purple crayon; there were even our names, and our old phone number—which I still remember because it was the first phone number I ever had to learn.
Suddenly, it became the most important book in the world, and I bought it back for 75 cents.
I just turned 40, and I still have that orange copy of The Wizard of Oz. I don’t have that first matched set any longer, however. I guess I’m still a collector, but the things I choose to collect have changed.
This graphic-story that the below image comes from reminded me of that: of the feeling I got when I rediscovered that old book, when I realized I had not even known I missed having that particular version in my hands. I had missed the comfortable softness of the pages, and the pliant flexibility of the old paper cover, its dusty texture against my fingers.
Be sure to follow the link to read the whole story called Mister Bookseller.